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Berrien County Health Dept. changes COVID-19 guidance from ‘mask recommended’ to ‘mask optional’

Emma Atkinson/WTIU

The Berrien County Health Department has changed its COVID-19 guidance from “mask recommended” to “mask optional” in public indoor settings, including K-12 schools.

The move follows a change in state masking guidance from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Wednesday.

“The shift that we have right now is moving from source control to individual protection,” Acting Berrien County Health Officer Guy Miller said.

With the number of testing and treatment options now available, Miller said it’s much easier for people to protect themselves against the virus — making public health orders less necessary.

“As long as our vaccines, our therapeutics, our antivirals, remain an effective measure against this COVID-19 virus that’s circulating, we don’t have to really consider, as much, those lockdown-type measures,” he said.

Miller said the change is also supported by the county’s decrease in new cases over the last few weeks. Cases are now below 200 per 100,000 residents, a dramatic drop from the 13,000 seen at the peak of the omicron wave.

The county has also seen a 60 percent decrease in COVID hospitalizations.

The health department’s change in guidance also applies to public K-12 schools. Miller said the virus’s threat to children isn’t necessarily illness, but their potential to be a vector of transmission.

“When a kid shows up to school, if they live in a multigenerational household — they have grandma and grandpa in the house with them — they don’t get a choice on whether or not they can go to school that day,” he said. “But what we do have choices on is grandma and grandpa can get vaccinated. They can now, with more testing resources, test frequently to make sure that if they do get COVID-19, they can get an early treatment.”

The health department still recommends that anyone in high-risk congregate settings — including long-term care facilities, jails, homeless shelters and health care facilities — continue to wear a mask, regardless of vaccination status.

He also encouraged community members to consider the risk level of those in their personal circles.

“Whether that’s grandma and grandpa or a friend who’s going through chemotherapy,” Miller said. “I think that’s just one way that we can love our neighbors as people — we can consider their risks and do what might benefit them, even though it might be a little bit of an inconvenience to us.”

Contact Gemma at or follow her on Twitter at @gemma_dicarlo.

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Gemma DiCarlo came to Indiana by way of Athens, Georgia. She graduated from the University of Georgia in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and certificates in New Media and Sustainability. She has radio experience from her time as associate producer of Athens News Matters, the flagship public affairs program at WUGA-FM.